The MEP’s Diary: Lies, damn lies and statistics

What do our Members of European Parliament (MEPs) go through during their weekly ordeal in Brussels and Strasbourg?’s “The MEP’s dairy” features one MEP’s agenda every Monday.
Labour MEP Prof. Edward Scicluna (Socialists and Democrats) goes through his diary entry for last week.

The last couple of weeks have been dominated by the final stages of my report on the European Statistical Programme, which was unanimously adopted on Tuesday.

I was particularly pleased to secure cross-party agreement on all key parts of the text from the EPP, Liberals and the Greens, with the final committee vote backing my report by 40 votes to 0. This united position should put us in good stead in the final negotiations with Council. The more united that Parliament is, the more likely we are to secure a good deal with government ministers.

However, the committee vote is not the end of the process. Rather, it is more like the end of the beginning. The process of piloting a piece of legislation from first proposal to final vote is a long and bumpy road. We started work on the text in March and will hopefully finalise the agreement in the autumn. With the committee process now complete, negotiations with government ministers will start in the next couple of weeks, with the Danish presidency very keen to achieve swift resolution on the legislation.

The bill itself is the European Statistical Programme which serves as the rulebook governing the work produced by Eurostat and the national statistical authorities between 2013 and 2017, with a budget of €299.5 million over the five-year period.

Statistics is one of the drier areas of economics and it certainly doesn’t attract the kind of mass lobbying that the financial sector launches whenever financial regulation comes up, but that does not detract from its importance.

One of the lessons we have learnt from the debt crisis has been that unreliable economic data has devastating consequences on national economies. The economic crisis in Greece came after massive statistical fraud was revealed. Apart from maintaining market confidence, on a more fundamental level, accurate data is the first building block of policy making. Without it, we cannot hope to formulate effective public spending and tax policies, so it is vital that we use all available tools to ensure their quality.

The main reforms I want to introduce deal with the functioning of statistical agencies and the data that is collected. To maintain the functioning and transparency of statistical bodies, I want to establish a system of peer review, with Eurostat required to audit the work of national authorities and given the power to publicly announce cases in which has concerns about the quality and accuracy of national data. Eurostat should then also publish material on its website to be as accessible and user-friendly as possible.

The other question is on the data itself. One of the EU’s main policy programmes is the EU 2020 programme. With European economies struggling with low or negative growth, high unemployment, and increasing levels of poverty, particularly for the four countries that have required financial rescue packages, we need to obtain data that captures the scale of these social problems and enables us to tailor public policy accordingly.

As an econometrician myself, this legislation is close to my heart. It is important that statistical authorities at EU and national level have a clear mandate and the resources to do their job properly, free from political interference. That is what MEPs have voted for and it is now up to governments to do the same.

– di-ve : 25th June, 2012

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